Universal // 1986 // 1122 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // January 13th, 2006
"Freeze! Miami Vice!"
The folks at NBC had two genuine cop show hits on their hands occupying different nights of the prime-time schedule. One was a critical darling (Hill Street Blues), the other got all the publicity and the stars (Miami Vice). With the era of pastels gone, dress shoes with no socks out of date, and three day old stubble being so, whatever, how does Miami Vice hold up, especially after a blockbuster first season? Does the magical ride continue?
Just like Season One, the episodes are spread out over three flipper discs. They appear as follows:
* The Prodigal Son
Directed by Starsky and Hutch co-star Paul Michael Glaser, the story follows Crocket (Don Johnson, Guilty as Sin) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) to New York, where they are hot on the heels of a player in a major Columbian drug ring who are killing federal agents. Notable guest stars on this episode include musician Gene Simmons (KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, Runaway), actors Charles S. Dutton (Roc, Against the Ropes) and Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, The L Word).
* "Whatever Works"
Things start to get a little weird here, as Crockett and Tubbs help in investigating the murder of two local police officers, who had ties to a Santeria (a mystical religion). The only guest star of note is Eartha Kitt (Boomerang, Holes), but the episode is notable for Crockett temporarily losing his car, his prized Ferrari Spyder, which is probably where the show was at its peak.
* "Out Where The Buses Don't Run"
In a show that includes a very young David Straithairn (Good Night and Good Luck, Eight Men Out), it's the performance of Bruce McGill (The Insider, Cinderella Man) as a former cop trailing a noted drug dealer who disappeared years before, that I've enjoyed through the years. And it got me into understanding why the Dire Straits album "Brothers in Arms" was liked so much by so many people then.
* "The Dutch Oven"
I guess you know when a show is losing its appeal when they focus on supporting characters that aren't too good. And like Season One's "Give a Little, Take a Little," this episode focuses on some internal conflict with Trudy (Olivia Brown, Throw Momma From the Train, Moesha) after killing someone during a drug deal. Blah.
Wow, Nathan Lane (The Birdcage, The Producers) appears in this episode? Cool. Either way, Crockett has to make a choice between his friend (this time, played by James Remar, 48 Hours) and his job as a cop. He did this in previous episodes, and would do it again in future episodes. You would think that with all the shady friends that Crockett had that weren't cops, that someone would say something to him, but oh well.
* "Junk Love"
Tubbs always manages to fall in love with daughters of drug dealers, first it was the daughter of a dealer who killed his brother, now this! There is a pimp in this episode who is played by Miles Davis, which became another of several "what the?" moments on the show.
* "Tale of the Goat"
This one is a guilty pleasure for me, in that the cops play around with voodoo, and encounter a chieftain who they thought was dead. Menacingly played by Clarence Williams (Reindeer Games, The General's Daughter) and including a young Mykelti Williamson (Ali, Heat), this one spooked me for awhile afterwards growing up, and I remember it fondly.
This one may be another moment that fans disapprove of, as Castillo (Edward James Olmos, Battlestar Galactica, Selena) becomes a Japanese warrior to find and capture a friend of his who started working for the KGB (Dean Stockwell, Blue Velvet, Quantum Leap). The Castillo character could only be handled in spurts I guess, but this one was a little bit recycled from the first season.
* "Bought and Paid For"
Aside from bringing you the magic that is Motown artist El Debarge, this episode, about Gina helping a friend of hers from sexual abuse at the hands of a third world General's son, can largely be skipped.
* "Back in the World"
Quite possibly the best episode of the season, as an old friend of Crockett's from the Vietnam War (Bob Balaban, Best in Show, Capote) helps Crockett to discover a drug smuggling ring involving the bodies of dead veterans from the war and a crazed former officer, played by G. Gordon Liddy. Want to know why Liddy ate a rat growing up? Here's why. The interaction between Balaban and Johnson is excellent.
* "Phil the Shill"
OK, maybe here is where the show got a little bit too kitschy for its own good. Genesis drummer/frontman Phil Collins, who was experiencing a popularity surge with albums and some music that was used in the show, appeared as a con man in cahoots with a drug dealer. But if this episode doesn't illustrate the point of why musicians should stick to music, I don't know what will.
* "Definitely Miami"
Ted Nugent plays a man who uses his wife as bait for a trap, where he murders unsuspecting men for their money. The less there's said about this, the better, other than I'm sure that Ted was using proper firearm safety at all times.
* "Yankee Dollar"
Remember what I said about friends of Crockett's blurring the lines of right and wrong? Well, here's another case in point. A girlfriend dies after a mission where she's a mule for a drug runner, and he tries to get to the dealer, with the help of her little brother. Anyone noticing a pattern here?
* "One Way Ticket"
The plotline where Crockett and Tubbs deal with a former crook who lives in witness protection (or fakes his own death) wasn't used too much, but it was pretty good regardless. Here, a defense lawyer (played by John Heard, Home Alone) refuses to defend a crime boss, and Sonny, knowing the lawyer helped acquit the man who killed a former partner, doesn't care, but reconsiders. This one's a little better than expected.
* "Little Miss Dangerous"
Aside from a couple of catchy songs in this one, this is about a prostitute who is apparently murdering customers and leaving disturbing drawings at the crime scenes. In terms of story, there wasn't a lot going on here, but it looked good.
* "Florence Italy"
Ready for the guest appearance that dated the show? Well, the Fat Boys, live and in color, show up in a cameo. Plus race car driver Danny Sullivan appears as guess what, a race car driver. Good thing he drove a car better than he could act.
* "French Twist"
Hey, ready for another obscure musician in a guest starring role? Yep, Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen! Despite that weird occurrence, this episode isn't too bad, about an Interpol agent who doesn't know who her friends are anymore.
* "The Fix"
This one was probably the heart attack that sent hard core fans of the show away in droves. You've got NBA basketball legend Bill Russell playing a judge, and then-basketball star Bernard King as his 30 year old college son. The judge takes money to cover gambling debts, and the two accomplices are a squirrelly lawyer (Harvey Fierstein, Mrs. Doubtfire, Death to Smoochy) and his boss, a crime boss played by a young Michael Richards. Kramer goes to the mafia, indeed.
Alright, another athlete who thinks he can act! This time, it's boxer Roberto Duran, who poses as a jailed drug lord. With the help of another boss on the outside, they frame Crockett as the subject of investigations of corruption. If for nothing else, you should watch this episode to see how the great one (guitarist Frank Zappa) shows off his acting chops.
* "Free Verse"
OK, so Luis Guzman (Out of Sight, Boogie Nights) returns for the second time this season as a thug of a different name. You've got ex-Suicidal Tendencies vocalist Mike Muir in an uncredited cameo. You've even got Bianca Jagger in this one. But nothing can prepare you for seeing 21-year-old Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) in his first appearance on screen, as a goon. The mind reels, the senses wonder! The heart says, "what the hell is going on up there?"
* "Trust Fund Pirates"
One of the show's favorite recurring characters was small-time criminal Noogie Lamont (Charlie Barnett, D.C. Cab), and he comes back to help the boys battle a group of pirates who are robbing from drug dealers. Noted drug enthusiasts Richard Belzer (Law and Order, Homicide) and Tommy Chong (Up in Smoke) come along for the ride, while they're at it.
* "Sons and Lovers"
Tubbs' white elephant Calderone (who killed his brother) has long since been killed, but his son Ivan (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge!, Carlito's Way) has sworn revenge, and will do whatever he can to avenge his father's death, even if it means killing his sister, whom Tubbs was friendly with. Annoying cameo of this show? Ex-Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca. Despite that, it's a decent end to the season, all things considered.
Miami Vice was the reason to stay at home on Friday nights, as the first season was full of a lot of electric moments of drama and great performances. But as bright as the show's star shined, it shined half as long as some other established cop shows, because it was, quite frankly, a lot of style with rapidly disappearing substance. In Season One's outstanding episode "Evan," the show's storyline dealt with Crockett's friend, who seemed to be a homophobe. That kind of subject matter in 1984 was pretty new and quite surprising. But the thing that made the show unique was also detracting from it in one aspect.
It was clear by now to a lot of people that if you were famous and wanted to be seen doing something different, you appeared as a criminal on Miami Vice. Honestly, read over some of those names again, and realize I left even more names out of it! Consequently, with all the guest stars, there was very little room for advancing of storylines over a season, as each episode was pretty self-contained. Perhaps that's a larger metaphor for the '80s as a whole, with very little in terms of promise or depth.
The show was weekend entertainment for fans of cop shows; the real fans tuned in to see Hill Street Blues. The characters weren't superficial, the stories were equal parts suspenseful and touching, and the actors were simply of a higher caliber. It's really not a slap in the face to Miami Vice, as the show was one of my favorites, and both had Anthony Yerkovich producing them. But the quality of an average Hill Street Blues episode exceeded that of Miami Vice, with nowhere close to the production values. In terms of acting, the stories are at times retreads, and other times, they are shows whose dialogue borders on pretentious and silly, even more so two decades after the fact.
The big bragging point for Universal in these seasons of the show is that they managed to keep the old music for most, if not all of the episodes, and in Dolby 5.1 at that. The downside was that the video treatment the show received was almost nonexistent in the first season. With the second season, the video quality seems to have improved, albeit marginally. The print still looks pretty dirty, like Crockett's Lucky Strike cigarette ashes were dumped all over the original tapes. The audio does the job, with songs from The Who, Glenn Frey, Blondie and others, covering an eclectic taste of music. And in the first season, where there was barely any supplemental material, this season has nothing at all with it.
If memory serves, there weren't too many guest stars in the first season, and the result (aside from some eye-popping visuals) were some compelling stories featuring young up and coming talents. Executive producer Michael Mann's (Collateral) knack for putting together very different looking cop dramas is solid.
Fans of the show will continue to enjoy Miami Vice long after they can't fit into the shiny suits or skinny neckties. The abundance of novelty, or even strange guest stars does distract from fully enjoying the program. While there could have been some more attention paid to the overall product, the attempts to retain as much of the integrity of the broadcasts are commendable.
Detectives Crockett and Tubbs are found not guilty and are free to go. Universal should meet the two in interrogation for the shabby picture quality found in these discs.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1122 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fan Site